There was an interesting letter in the Chronicle yesterday about education. I always find these interesting. The letter writer didn't identify himself as a teacher, but if he was he has awfully unrealistic expectations. He wanted five year contracts and one computer for every two students. He wanted tutoring programs for students that fail and behavioral programs for students that disrupt the classroom. I simply love unbridled idealism.
A lot of people are concerned about teacher quality from a lot of different angles without realizing it is all the same angle. Some complain because it takes too long to get rid of a bad teacher. Others complain because there just aren't enough qualified teachers out there. Folks, it's the exact same problem. When you have a shortage of qualified teachers, it is going to be harder to get rid of bad teachers. Mind you, I believe there are fewer bad teachers than people believe. Still, nothing increases quality like competition. This is where we get into the age old debate on how we recruit teachers.
The answer that comes from outside the industry is ironic. They want to throw money at us. Hey, I'm not one to turn down a higher paycheck, but I think those folks are missing the point. Those that went into education went in knowing they weren't going to break the bank. However, most places pay even beginning teachers a comfortable wage. I've never had any specific beef with the amount of money I have been paid. More than half the teachers that enter the classroom leave before they make it to their fifth year. I guarantee you that most get out for reasons other than money.
For us to improve education we need to have more serious exit interviews to find out why that is happening. From the inside, I can harbor a guess. I think the first problem stems from the fact that teachers' authority has eroded over the years from all sides. You have micromaning administrators that dictate everything you do. You have parents that believe their children over the teacher. You have other administrators that undermine your authority when you have discipline issues, and finally you have the state dictating more and more what you are supposed to teach.
However, I think that is problem number one. Number two would be the actual level of discipline in the classroom. Our tasks as teachers move closer and closer to the realm of the baby sitter and away from the task of educator. An increasing number of parents are relieving themselves of the responsibilities of parenting and putting that on the schools. My own mother told me that when she started teaching that maybe one or two out of twenty-five kids would be successfully labeled as ADHD. That number grew to five or six by the time she retired, and I can only imagine it being worse in some areas and over the intervening ten years.
Most teachers went into teaching wanting to help kids learn. They didn't go in wanting to police students or fill out mountains of paperwork. There are those that manage both tasks very well and still manage to inspire their students. Still, you see Robin Williams reciting poetry in that movie, try to imagine two or three students out of their seats and disrupting others. Picture two or three more typing away on their cellphone. Imagine one or two asleep or passing notes and you will get an accurate picture of the 21st century classroom.
I don't know that the teacher shortage is so much about not enough people coming in as it is about too many people going out. I also don't think there is as big a problem of bad teachers as people think. If you can't control your classroom you are miserable. I know, I've been there. I had to learn and sometimes it's still a struggle. If you are miserable you are going to find something else to do. So, I don't know about one computer for every two children or five year contracts, but education still needs to do something about those that disrupt the class. Amazing how it always comes full circle to the idea of trade curriculums. One thing is for sure, teachers don't quit or stay because of the money. Give us more money, but give us a more peaceful environment first.